COMET • Vol. 5, No. 24 – 8 October 2004


(1) Deadline Extension and Call for Readers: California Mathematics and Science Partnership (CaMSP) Grant Program

Source: Yvonne Evans, California Department of Education – (916) 323-5252


The application deadline for the 2004-05 California Mathematics and Science Partnership (CaMSP) Grant Program has been extended to November 15, 2004 (original deadline: October 25, 2004).

Anyone who is interested in serving as a CaMSP grant application reader should contact Karen Martin at (916) 323-6404 or The readers conference is expected to be held in Sacramento on December 8-9, 2004. Award announcements should be made by January 15, 2005.

For additional information, please contact Yvonne Evans at (916) 323-5252, Lisa Fassett at (916) 323-4963, Kay Garcia at (916) 323-5832, or Phil Lafontaine at (916) 323-6189 in the Mathematics and Science Leadership Office of the California Department of Education.

(2) “Berkeley: From Math Group, a Monthly Muni Puzzle for Riders” by Paul Kilduff

Source: San Francisco Chronicle – October 8, 2004


The inside of a bus may not seem like the ideal place to rekindle your interest in math, but a group of mathematicians is betting it will.

Earlier this month, the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute of Berkeley outfitted San Francisco Muni buses with the first in a series of puzzles designed to pique the interest of middle school to high school-age students and anyone else in transit.

The puzzles appear amid the mini-billboard ads above the windows and below the ceiling on the buses. They are called “Puzzles on Wheels,” and MSRI will post a new one each month through February. October’s puzzle is a square with a four-by-four grid of squares inside it. Commuters are asked to count the total possible number of squares.

Rather than opting for mind-numbing word problems straight out of a junior high school algebra textbook, MSRI’s wizards decided to go with puzzles because they’re more user-friendly.

“People like puzzles. Crossword puzzles. Math puzzles. All sorts of things. Puzzles don’t sound very threatening. Math problems sound like death, ” said MSRI’s Deputy Director Matt Miller, a math professor at the University of South Carolina on loan to the Institute through December. “What we’re trying to do is to present stuff that doesn’t look like school curriculum–that they start afresh.”

Answers may be submitted to MSRI’s Web site ( Each month a randomly selected correct respondent will receive a $100 prize. The answer to the previous month’s puzzle will be posted after the new puzzle goes up. Just in case you need a little time to think about the puzzle, the billboards will also feature little tear-off slips with the puzzle on it so you can ponder it at your leisure. Four hundred of the billboards–called bus cards–were designed for free by San Francisco ad agency Goodby, Silverstein and Partners. They will appear on 200 buses.

Doing fairly simple puzzles are the tip of the math iceberg and can lead to an exploration of more sophisticated math problems, Miller said. With the square stumper, he says one could get the correct answer by tracing squares over the grid in as many possible configurations and counting them up.

“But now imagine that it was a 100 by 100 grid of boxes instead of four by four? Well, you’re not really going to do that one by hand because how do you know you haven’t missed a couple somewhere or a few dozen maybe,” Miller said.

To get participants interested in thinking about the broader math concepts involved in the puzzles, MSRI’s Web site provides a link on its page called “Taking It Further”…

Another goal of Puzzles on Wheels is to get students and others on the wrong side of the so-called “digital divide,” to go to libraries and other facilities where they can log on to answer the questions.

“We’re interested in reaching people who don’t have computers at their fingertips to go browsing,” said Miller.

For high school math teacher Sandie Gilliam, using puzzles to get students interested in math is a no-brainer. A teacher at San Lorenzo Valley High School in Felton (north of Santa Cruz) for the past 22 years, Gilliam won the Presidential Award for excellence in high school math teaching in 2000 and is a fellow at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching in Palo Alto. She uses the same square puzzle in her algebra classes.

“It’s absolutely the beginnings of algebra if you can look at the patterns and generate a formula. These puzzles create a visual connection between something you understand and the abstractness of algebra. If we can take something and visually make the connections then the kids begin to understand.”

Gilliam views an increase in math education levels as crucial, especially in understanding the graphs and charts associated with government budgets.

“We have a nation of people with math woes. They have such stories about how math was not fun,” Gilliam said. “They never tell me history was their least favorite subject. It makes me very sad. Math is one of those subjects that helps make an informed citizenry.”

“Puzzles on Wheels” is a pilot program with a budget of $24,000, but Miller says he’d like to see it expand. “Why just buses? Why not ultimately Southwest Airlines?”


Additional Information:

Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI)


[] MSRI is a non-profit independently administered institution located on the University of California campus in Berkeley. Most of its activities center around research programs of several months and workshops of one to two weeks focused on topics in contemporary mathematics. Mixed in with these, MSRI sponsors outreach events to educate the public about the vitality of mathematics and the need for strong mathematical education of the whole population, from school children to senior citizens. Advanced mathematics lies behind almost everything we do nowadays. Have you ever wondered how barcodes, airline flight schedules, the Internet connections and searches, medical imaging, balancing options in environmental conservation, and other complicated tasks actually work? Behind the scenes there are mathematicians. Many people feel that the mathematics taught in school was dull, and seems irrelevant to their lives now. We hope to create a more positive image of mathematics as a living and breathing activity, accessible and fun, for people of all backgrounds, ages, and educational levels. We hope that you are finding these problems interesting and challenging.

If you are interested in further opportunities for pre-college youngsters to learn different and more advanced mathematics than they see in school, and to get training for national and international competitions, please link to the Berkeley Math Circle (BMC) and the Bay Area Mathematical Olympiad (BAMO) home page at Jim Tanton is our principal problem coordinator, and the sometimes author, sometimes editor, of the Hints, Solutions, and Taking it Further. You may want to check out his other activities at

(3) California Teacher Receives Prestigious National Educator Award for Excellence

Source: California Department of Education – 5 October 2004


On Tuesday, October 5, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell congratulated a California teacher for receiving a Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award.

The surprise announcement honoring Davide Busetti was made during a school assembly in Santa Ana. Davide is one of 100 winners being announced nationally this year by the Milken Family Foundation.

“I would like to congratulate Mr. Busetti for being an exceptional teacher,” said O’Connell. “His innovative education methods have helped raise his students’ test scores and kept them engaged in the learning experience. I also want to thank the Milken Family Foundation for acknowledging and rewarding his hard work.”

Busetti teaches fourth grade at Wallace R. Davis Elementary School in the Santa Ana Unified School District. He is trilingual in English, Spanish, and Italian. Colleagues describe Busetti as being phenomenal in the classroom and having a broad-based knowledge of educational theory, as well as an uncanny ability to put these theories into practice. Such abilities have helped his students’ scores soar. Busetti is also known for his generosity in helping his students and their families. He has helped parents and families in crisis find jobs and homes.

Teachers are recommended for this award program without their knowledge by their respective state departments of education. There exists no nomination process for this prestigious award. Teachers are judged on factors such as exceptional educational talent that is evidenced by outstanding instructional practices in the classroom, school, and profession; outstanding accomplishments and strong long-range potential for professional and policy leadership; and having an engaging and inspiring presence that motivates and impacts students, colleagues, and the community at large.

Lowell Milken is the chairman and co-founder of the Milken Family Foundation. He created the largest teacher recognition program, the National Educator Awards, in 1985 to celebrate the nation’s most outstanding teachers, principals, and specialists in K-12 education. By year’s end, a total of 2,077 educators in 47 states and the District of Columbia will be recognized. The winners have received $50 million in Foundation awards since the program’s inception. For more information, please visit

Busetti will receive an unrestricted $25,000 award to spend as he pleases. He may be reached at Davis Elementary School at 714-564-2200, extension 35.


Free On-Demand Professional Development Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education


The U.S. Department of Education has brought together some of the nation’s most effective teachers and education experts to share with their colleagues research-based practices and proven methods of using data to inform instruction. Teacher-to-Teacher Summer Workshops, recently offered in various locations all over the United States, presented research-based practices that have been instrumental in closing the achievement gap. These workshops were taped and converted to video-streaming format. All Teacher-to-Teacher programs are closed captioned and can be viewed either on-line [using Windows Media player)] or on the Florida Education Channel [DISH Network 9418]. These video courses will help teachers experience on-demand [“anytime, anywhere”] professional development to increase their knowledge and skills for improving student achievement.

By enrolling in these professional development courses, educators will also have access to the electronic Professional System, or ePDC. This system is password protected and will provide teachers with a personal portfolio for their professional development. This portfolio will even be maintained after completing Teacher-to-Teacher courses, so it can be returned to at a later date to take future professional development courses.

To find out how to enroll, watch the programs, and complete the online follow-ups, just click the “getting started” button on the above Web page.

Available “Teacher to Teacher” workshops (

–  Looking at Vocabulary

–  Using Technology to Enhance Algebra Instruction*

–  Patterns to Symbols: Algebra**

–  Reading in the Content Areas: It’s Just Different

–  Taking the “Dense” Out of Density

–  Beginning to Write

– Developing Computational Fluency in Addition and Subtraction (will be available 10/12/2004)

– No Child Left Behind Basics (will be available 10/19/2004)

– Examining Student Work: A Protocol for Improving Reading (will be available 10/28/2004)

– Turning Data Into Information (will be available 11/2/2004)

– Differentiated Instruction (will be available 11/9/2004)

*Using Technology to Enhance Algebra Instruction

(Grades 7-12)

Course Description:  In this course, Angela Newing shares a range of free web-based resources that can be used to enhance the teaching and learning of mathematics. Participants will discover how to find interactive math applets, Internet-based lesson plans, and projects that utilize technology. They will also explore technology tools that can be used to help students better comprehend algebraic concepts.

Patterns to Symbols: Algebra

(Grades 3-6)

Course Description:

The transition from arithmetic to algebra is often difficult. That is why it is imperative that teachers of grades 3-6 have the opportunity to think about and experience algebraic activities appropriate for this level. This presentation will focus on the algebraic concept of generalization by analyzing patterns and helping students to describe and represent the patterns they find. Teachers will have the opportunity to engage in activities involving generalizing patterns with emphasis on how different students might approach the same problem. This process will not only provide exposure to a number of rich activities that can lay the foundation for further algebra study, but it allows teachers to increase their understanding of algebra. Woven throughout will be references to current research, including the work currently underway at TERC, Wisconsin Center for Education Research (WCER), and other research institutions.